Meet Anurag Kawde, new postdoc at LINXS
Artificial photosynthesis has the potential to provide cheap sustainable fuel for everyone in the world. Anurag Kawde, new postdoc at LINXS, wants to optimize the process of converting water into hydrogen by understanding excitons (electron and hole) mobility. He works on tuning the surface and bulk properties of materials that can be used to develop the next generation of clean energy technologies.
– Artificial photosynthesis is a promising approach since it can help solve many of the challenges linked to energy production and demand. Researchers all over the world are now exploring how one can refine and optimize the process, says Anurag Kawde.
Artificial photosynthesis is a chemical process that biomimics the natural process of photosynthesis observed in plants (and some microbes) to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. Artificial photosynthesis can be divided into three different processes, which are water splitting to generate Hydrogen and oxygen, CO2 reductions to useful hydrocarbons such as methanol, ethanol etc, and nitrogen reduction to ammonia (NH3). All of these processes can take place in the presence of sunlight and a suitable photocatalyst.
Anurag Kawde’s research primarily focuses on the process of photocatalyctic water splitting, where water is converted into oxygen and hydrogen in presence of sunlight. The hydrogen can then put into a fuel cell or also be used as pure energy-fuel.
The advantages of using artificial photosynthesis for energy production are many says Anurag Kawde. It’s a clean process which do not produce carbon dioxide, as opposed to fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas which contributes to global warming. It can also meet requirements for energy storability since it locks the hydrogen directly into a fuel cell. Finally, artificial photosynthesis uses sunlight and seawater, which are abundant on earth. This means it has the potential to meet a growing demand for energy, and to produce energy in a way that is sustainable and affordable to all.
Anurag Kawde’s post-doc research will build on his PhD work on semiconductor photocatalysts at Umeå University, Sweden and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), France. During his time in Umeå and France, he developed a semiconductor photocatalyst made out of silicon to split seawater into oxygen and hydrogen. He studied the electronic structure of photocatlysts at ESRF down to their atomic level. Semiconductors are a special class of materials which acts as conductors in presence of sunlight. As soon as a semiconductors photocatalysts is exposed to sunlight it creates excitons. Excitons are electrons and holes pairs (holes are conceptual identities formed by the vacant space of excited electrons) that are available for the artificial photosynthesis reactions.
– As all chemical and electrical reactions need electrons and holes, through semiconductor and solar energy, we can generate them freely. Thus we need fundamental information on how these excitons moves in the semiconductor photocatalysts. What are the limiting factors? And how can we tune them?
Tuning these materials is the essence of Anurag Kawde’s research. He also seeks to address the thermodynamic and kinetics challenges associated with the artificial photosynthesis process.
At LINXS, he will use techniques such as photo-electrochemistry and time resolved spectroscopy to study the mobility of excitons and X-ray spectroscopy at different synchrotron sources such MAX IV, ESRF to study changes in electronic structures in semiconductors. The research is part of a larger project together with researchers at Lund University, Umeå University, Uppsala University and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France. In Lund, he’s working closely with professor Tönu Pullerits and Professor Marie Skepö at the Department of Chemistry.
– Once I have information on how electrons and holes move inside the semiconductor and how the spin states of electrons in the semiconductor photocatalysts affect the overall artificial photosynthesis reaction, we can start designing a much more efficient process for splitting seawater into hydrogen. If we succeed, we are one step closer towards developing carbon free renewable technologies.
As he is starting his research at LINXS, Anurag Kawde reflects on what drives him as a researcher, and why he focused on sustainable technologies.
– There’s always some way to give back to society, and I think knowledge is the best way I can give back. And to add to that, if we can contribute to saving our earth by reducing global warming and pollution it would be a nice contribution for a researcher.
– Also for the new generation to come, I would like to build a better platform through my research so that future researchers can take it forward from there.